Photo by ISIphotos.com
Yes Real Salt Lake fans, last night really happened.
Real Salt Lake won the 2009 MLS Cup Final, beating the Los Angeles Galaxy in penalty kicks to cap a dream run through the playoffs.
RSL outplayed the favored Galaxy over the course of the 120 minutes before penalties, then the underdogs showed their poise yet again, winning their second penalty shootout in eight days to bring Utah its first professional sports title.
The ending was a bitter pill for the Galaxy, which enjoyed a strong season to help its club climb out of a three-year long spell of ineptitude. League MVP Landon Donovan won't soon forget his crucial penalty kick miss, but he was not alone in delivering a disappointing performance for the Galaxy.
Here are some observations from Sunday night's dramatic final:
Kyle Beckerman was a beastall match long. Yes, he missed a penalty that he clearly rushed, but the RSL captain was the stabilizing force in midfield for Real Salt Lake and didn't put a foot wrong in outplaying the Galaxy tandem of Chris Birchall and Jovan Kirovski.
Clint Mathis captures his long-awaited title. The veteran midfielder stepped in for the injured Javier Morales and provided some creativity in midfield that helped RSL's attack keep the Galaxy on its heels in the second half. He then delivered a club penalty to win his first MLS title, exactly ten years after losing in the '99 final with Los Angeles.
Bruce Arena's central midfield fell flat. With David Beckham hobbled and unable to handle the rigors of the middle of the park, and with Dema Kovalenko sick, Arena was forced to play a central midfield tandem of Jovan Kirovski and Chris Birchall. That spelled doom for the Galaxy attack because it placed an even heavier burden on Landon Donovan, who was given little service and even less support as RSL threw numbers at him.
Robbie Findley rose to the challenge. Nick Rimando won game MVP honors, but Findley was just as deserving. He finished off one of RSL's only clear chances to equalize, he pressed the Galaxy back-line throughout the match, and he stepped up and converted his penalty attempt in the shootout. He has really matured throughout the latter part of the season and established himself as a young player with heart to go with his talent. He also has the look of a player ready to fight for a place in the U.S. national team mix.
Jason Kreis earned deserves tons of credit. Real Salt Lake's head coach saw his team go through phases of inconsistency for most of the season, but he eventually settled on a lineup that hit its stride and proved to be the right combination to deliver a title. As the youngest head coach to ever win an MLS Cup at 36, Kreis has established himself as one of the most promising young head coaches MLS has seen in years.
MVP honors for being a great host city. For the first time I can remember (and this was my eighth straight MLS Cup) a host city truly embraced an MLS Cup Final. In past finals, you could pass through a city and not even realize a championship was being played that weekend. Not so in Seattle, where there were signs of the Cup's arrival in town all over the city and visiting fans were treated to an atmosphere befitting a Cup Final.
What did you think of the final? Impressed with Real Salt Lake's performance? Disappointed with the Galaxy's showing? Still surprised that Donovan missed his penalty? Think RSL can repeat?
Share your thoughts below.